Showcase Presents Batman volume 3


By Gardner F. Fox, John Broome, Mike Friedrich, Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff, Gil Kane, Frank Springer, Chic Stone, Sid Greene, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1719-8 (TPB)

After 3 seasons (perhaps 2½ would be closer) the Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes since its US premiere on January 12th 1966. The era ended but the series had left undeniable effect on the world, the comics industry and most importantly on the characters and history of its four-colour inspiration. Most notable was a whole new superstar who became an integral part of the DC universe.

This astoundingly economical black & white compendium (another collection long in need of modern revival …and some colour too, please) gathers all the Batman and Robin yarns from #189-201 of the eponymous title as well as the Gotham stuff from Detective Comics #359-375 (the back-up slot therein being delightfully filled at this time by the globetrotting, whimsically wonderful Elongated Man feature). The 33 stories here – written and illustrated by the cream of editor Julie Schwartz’s elite stable of creators – gradually evolved over the 17 months covered from an even mix of crime, science fiction, mystery, human interest and supervillain vehicles to a much narrower concentration of plot engines. As with TV’s version, costumes became king, and then became unwelcome….

It all begins with the comic book premiere of that aforementioned new character. In ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics #359, cover-dated January 1967) writer Gardner Fox and art team supreme Carmine Infantino & Sid Greene introduced Barbara Gordon: “mousy librarian” and daughter of the Police Commissioner into the superhero limelight. So by the time TV’s third season began on September 14th 1967, she was fully established.

A different Batgirl, Betty Kane, niece of the 1950s Batwoman, was already a comics fixture but for reasons far too complex and irrelevant to mention here was conveniently forgotten to make room for a new, empowered woman in the fresh tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. She was marketed as being pretty hot too, which was always a big consideration for television…

Whereas Babs fought The Penguin on the small screen, her paper origin features no less ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever yarn that still stands up today. An old foe unseen since the 1940s was revived for Batman #189 (February 1967). Demented psychology lecturer Jonathan Crane was obsessed by the emotion of fear and turned his expertise to criminal endeavours (initially in World’s Finest Comics #3 and Detective #73) before fading into obscurity. With ‘Fright of the Scarecrow’ he was back for (no) good, courtesy of Fox, Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella, as this tense psychodrama elevated him to the top rank of Bat-rogues. ‘The Case of the Abbreviated Batman’ (Detective #360) by the same team follows: an old-fashioned crime-caper with mobster Gunshy Barton pitting wits against Gotham’s Guardians whilst the March Batman’s full-length ‘The Penguin Takes a Flyer… Into the Future!’ – scripted by John Broome – mixed super-villainy and faux science fiction motifs for an enjoyable if predictable fist-fest.

Editor Schwartz preferred to stick with mysteries and conundrums in Detective Comics and #361’s ‘The Dynamic Duo’s Double-Deathtrap!’ was one of Fox’s best examples, especially as drawn by the incredibly over-stretched Infantino & Greene. The plot involves Cold War spies and a maker of theatrical paraphernalia. I shall reveal no more to keep you guessing when you read it. The next issue, by Fox, Moldoff & Giella, featured another eccentric scheme by The Riddler on ‘The Night Batman Destroyed Gotham City!’ Batman #191 featured two tales by Broome, Moldoff & Giella starting on ‘The Day Batman Sold Out!’: a “Hero Quits” teaser with a Babs Gordon cameo, whilst the faithful retainer took centre stage in charming parable ‘Alfred’s Mystery Menu’.

‘The True-False Face of Batman’ (Detective #363, by Fox Infantino &Greene) was a full co-starring vehicle as the new girl is challenged to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down the enigmatic Mr. Brains. Fox scripted both ‘The Crystal Ball that Betrayed Batman!’ – which featured an old enemy in a new guise – and Robin solo-story ‘Dick Grayson’s Secret Guardian!’ in Batman #192, for Moldoff & Giella. They also handled his mystery-yarn ‘The Curious Case of the Crime-less Clues!’ in Detective #364, wherein Riddler and a host of Bat-baddies again test the brains and patience of the Dynamic Duo – or do they?

Issue #365 featured Broome, Moldoff & Giella’s ‘The House The Joker Built!’ which was nobody’s finest hour, whereas Fox-scripted ‘The Blockbuster goes Bat-Mad!’ in Batman #196 is compensatory sheer delight, especially since it’s accompanied by a “fair-play” whodunnit starring The Mystery Analysts of Gotham City. ‘The Problem of the Proxy Paintings!’ is the kind of Batman tale I miss most these days: witty and urbane, a genuinely engaging puzzle without benefit of angst or histrionics.

There’s plenty of the latter in ‘The Round Robin Death Threats’ (Fox, Infantino & Greene): a tense thriller spanning two issues of Detective (#366 – 367 and an almost unheard of event in those reader-friendly days). The diabolical murder-plot threatens to systematically eradicate Gotham’s worthiest citizens with the drama ending in high style in ‘Where There’s a Will… There’s a Slay!’: a chilling conclusion almost ruined by that awful title.

Batman #195 introduced radioactive villain Bag o’Bones in ‘The Spark-Spangled See-Through Man!’ – a desperate attempt to return to story-driven tales, though the ‘7 Wonder Crimes of Gotham City!’ (Detective #368 by Fox, Moldoff & Giella) was a far more enjoyable taste of bygone times. The next issue led with clever puzzler ‘The Psychic Super-Sleuth!’ and finished well with another challenging mystery in ‘The Purloined Parchment Puzzle!’ (both by Fox, Moldoff & Giella) before Detective #369, illustrated by Infantino & Greene, rather reinforced boyhood prejudices about icky girls in classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo’ before segueing into a classic confrontation as Batman #197 reveals how ‘Catwoman Sets Her Claws for Batman!’ (Fox, Frank Springer & Greene). This frankly daft tale is most fondly remembered for the classic cover of Batgirl and Catwoman (with her Whip!!!) squaring off over Batman’s prone body – comic fans have a unique psychopathology absolutely all their very own…

Detective Comics #370 was by Broome, Moldoff & Giella, relating a superb thriller with roots in Bruce Wayne’s troubled youth. ‘The Nemesis from Batman’s Boyhood!’ is in many ways a precursor of later tales with an excellent psychologically potent premise and a soundly satisfying conclusion proving the demands of the TV shows were not exclusive or paramount. Gil Kane made his debut on the “Dominoed Daredoll” (did they really call her that? Yes. Yes they did, from page 2 onwards) in #371’s ‘Batgirl’s Costumed Cut-ups’, a masterpiece of comic dynamism that Sid Greene could be proud of but which Gardner Fox probably preferred to forget.

Batman #199’s ‘Peril of the Poison Rings’ and ‘Seven Steps to Save Face’ are far better examples of the clever plotting, memorable maguffins and rapid pace Fox was capable of, ably interpreted here by Moldoff & Giella, whilst Broome’s ‘The Fearsome Foot-Fighters!’ weak title masks a classy burglary-yarn and the regular art team’s beginning to amplify mood via heavy shadow in all their endeavours. This issue (Detective #370) was the first Bat-cover legend-in-waiting Neal Adams pencilled and inked – an awesome taste of things to come…

Batman #200 (cover-dated March 1968 and on ale mid-January) was written by wunderkind Mike Friedrich for Moldoff & Giella. ‘The Man Who Radiated Fear!’ featured a revitalised Scarecrow, and with the TV influence fading, a pre-emptive rehabilitation of the Caped Crusader began right here in a solid thriller with few laughs and plenty of guest-stars. Fox returned to top form in Detective #373, with Chic Stone & Greene illustrating Mr. Freeze’s Chilling Deathtrap!’, a tale favouring drama over showbiz shtick, after which Gil Kane returned to ramp up tension in brutal vengeance fable ‘Hunt for a Robin-Killer!’ (Detective #374) whilst Stone & Giella coped well with the extended cast of villains in Batman #201’s ‘Batman’s Gangland Guardians!’: a cunning action-packed enigma wherein his greatest foes become bodyguards to a hero…

This volume ends with Detective #374 and Fox, Stone & Greene’s ‘The Frigid Finger of Fate’ and a chilling race to catch a precognitive sniper, which – more than any other story – signalled the end of the Camp-Craze Caped Crimebuster and heralded the imminent return of a Darker Knight. With this third collection from “the TV years” of Batman – all done with by Spring of 1968 – the global Bat-craze and larger popular fascination with super-heroes – and indeed the whole “Camp” trend – was dying. In comics, that resulted in a resurgence of other genres, particularly Westerns and supernatural tales. For Batman it signalled a renaissance of passion, terror and a life of shadows. Stay tuned: the best is yet to come…
© 1967, 1968, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Masterworks Daredevil volume 15


By Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Michael Fleischer, David Micheline, Ralph Macchio, Josef Rubinstein, Steve Ditko, Paul Gulacy & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2927-5 (HB/Digital edition)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. A second-string hero for much of his early career, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due mostly to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. DD fought gangsters, super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wisecracking his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he became.

After a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with Russian emigre Natasha Romanoff, infamous and notorious ex-spy Black Widow but their similarities and incompatibilities led to her leaving as Matt took up with flighty trouble-magnet heiress Heather Glenn

Spanning July 1979 to July 1981 this monumental Masterworks tome compiles Daredevil #159-172 and material from Bizarre Adventures #25 (March 1981), consolidating and completing a Hero’s Transformation begun by Jim Shooter with a bold, apparently carefree Scarlet Swashbuckler devolving into a driven, terrifying figure. Daredevil became here an urban defender and compulsive avenger: a tortured demon dipped in blood. The character makeover was carried on initially by Roger McKenzie in the previous volume and continues with Frank Miller collaborating until he fully takes control: crafting audaciously shocking, groundbreakingly compelling dark delights, and making Daredevil one of comics’ most momentous, unmissable, “must-read” series.

Preceded by an appreciative commentary and Introduction from latterday scripter Charles Soule, the revitalisation resumes with ‘Marked for Murder!’ (McKenzie, Miller & Klaus Janson) wherein infallible assassin-master Eric Slaughter comes out of retirement for a very special hit on the hero of Hell’s Kitchen. Meanwhile elsewhere, veteran Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich works a nagging hunch: slowly piecing together dusty news snippets that indicate a certain sight-impaired attorney might be far more than he seems…

The spectacular showdown between the Crimson Crimebuster and Slaughter’s hit-man army inevitably compels his covert client to eventually do his own dirty work: brutally ambushing and abducts DD’s former flame Natasha Romanoff, The Black Widow

After a single-page info-feature on ‘Daredevil’s Billy Club!’ the saga continues in DD #160 with our hero having no choice but to place himself ‘In the Hands of Bullseye!’ – a stratagem culminating in a devastating duel and shocking defeat for the villain in #161’s ‘To Dare the Devil!’

The next issue offered a fill-in tale from Michael Fleisher & Steve Ditko wherein another radiation accident impairs the hero’s abilities and induces amnesia just as a figure from his father’s pugilistic past resurfaces. Becoming a boxer for crooked promoter Mr. Hyle, Murdock unknowingly relives his murdered dad’s last days in ‘Requiem for a Pug!’ … until his memories return and justice is served…

Stunning David v Goliath action belatedly comes in #163 as the merely mortal Man Without Fear battles The Incredible Hulk in ‘Blind Alley’ (McKenzie & Miller, inked by Josef Rubenstein & Janson) wherein Murdock’s innate compassion for hounded Bruce Banner accidentally endangers Manhattan and triggers a desperate, bone breaking, ultimately doomed attempt to save his beloved city…

In #164 McKenzie, Miller & Janson deliver an evocative ‘Exposé’, retelling the origin saga as meticulous, dogged Urich confronts the hospitalised hero with inescapable conclusions from his diligent research and a turning point is reached…

The landmark tale is followed by accompanied by Miller’s unused cover for Ditko’s fill-in, preceding a mean-&-moody modern makeover for a moribund and over-exposed Spider-Man villain. DD #165 finds the Scarlet Swashbuckler in the ‘Arms of the Octopus’ after Murdock’s millionaire girlfriend Heather is kidnapped by Dr. Otto Octavius. Her company can – and do – rebuild his mechanical tentacles with Adamantium, but “Doc Ock” stupidly underestimates both his hostage and the Man Without Fear…

The long-running plot thread of Foggy Nelson’s oft-delayed wedding finally culminates with some much-needed comedy in #166’s ‘Till Death Do Us Part!’, with true tragedy coming as old enemy The Gladiator has a breakdown and kidnaps his parole officer. With visions of Roman arenas driving him, tormented killer Melvin Potter only needs to see Daredevil to go completely over the top…

David Michelinie wrote #167 for Miller & Janson, as a cruelly wronged employee of tech company the Cord Conglomerate steals super-armour to become ‘…The Mauler!’ and exact personal justice. Constantly drawn into the conflict, DD finds his sense of justice and respect for the law at odds when another unavoidable tragedy results…

The tale is backed up by an info feature revealing the ‘Dark Secrets’ of DD’s everyday life and segues neatly into the story that changed everything.

In Daredevil #168 Miller took over the writing and with Janson’s art contributions increasing in each issue rewired the history of Matt Murdock to open an era of noir-tinged, pulp-fuelled Eisner-inspired innovation. It begins when Daredevil encounters a new bounty hunter in town and reveals a lost college-days first love. Back then diplomat’s daughter Elektra Natchios shared his secret until her father was kidnapped and murdered before her eyes, partly due to Matt’s hasty actions. She left him and vanished, apparently becoming a ninja assassin, but is now tearing up the town hunting for Eric Slaughter. Matt cannot help but get involved…

When Daredevil last defeated Bullseye, the killer was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and in #169, escapes from hospital to enact another murder spree. He is deep in a delusional state where everyone he sees are horn-headed scarlet-clad ‘Devils’. A frenetic chase and brutal battle results in countless civilian casualties and great anxiety as Daredevil has a chance to let the manic die… but doesn’t.

Yet another landmark resurrection of a tired villain begins in DD #170 as Miller & Janson decree ‘The Kingpin Must Die’. The former crimelord of New York faded into serene retirement in Japan by impassioned request of his wife Vanessa, until this triptych of terror sees him return more powerful than ever. It begins when the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen hears rumours the syndicate that replaced Wilson Fisk are trying to kill him. Apparently he has offered all his old records to the Feds…

When Vanessa hires Nelson & Murdock to broker the deal, all hell breaks loose, assassins attack and Mrs Fisk goes missing. Further complicating matters, having survived brain surgery Bullseye offers his services to the syndicate, mercenary killer Elektra senses a business opportunity and a murderously resolute Kingpin sneaks back into the country resolved to save Vanessa at any cost…

The title at last returned to monthly schedule with #171 as the city erupted into sporadic violence with civilians caught in the crossfire. DD dons a disguise and goes undercover but is soon ‘In the Kingpin’s Clutches’ and sent to a watery grave prior to Fisk gambling and losing everything…

The sags ends in all-out ‘Gangwar!’ as, with Vanessa lost and presumed dead, Wilson Fisk destroys the Syndicate and takes back control of New York’s underworld with Daredevil scoring a small toxic victory by apprehending the Kingpin’s assassin, all the while aware that every death since Bullseye’s operation has been because Murdock was not strong enough to let the monster die…

And deep in the bowels of the city, an amnesiac woman wanders, a future trigger for much death and destruction to come…

To Be Continued…

With the Marvel Universe about to change in incomprehensible ways, this tome pauses here but still finds room to focus on a solo outing for a cast regular. In Bizarre Adventures #25 (with cover and ‘Lethal Ladies’ frontispiece included), Ralph Macchio scripted an espionage tale for an older reader-base. The devious spy yarn of double and triple cross saw agents betraying each other while trying to ascertain who might be working for “the other side”.

‘I Got the Yo-Yo… You Got the String’ sets Black Widow in her proper milieu, despatched by S.H.I.E.L.D. to assassinate her former tutor Irma Klausvichnova as she hides in an African political hot spot. Of course, as the mission proceeds, Natasha learns she can’t trust anybody and everything she knows is either a lie or a test with fatal consequences…

The chilling, twist-ridden tale is elevated to excellence by the powerful monochrome tonal art of Paul Gulacy who packs the piece with sly tributes to numerous movie spies and the actors – such as Michael Caine and Humphry Bogart – who first made the genre so compelling.

The bonus gallery section opens with pertinent pages from Marvel Comics 20th Anniversary Calendar (1981) – June’s entry by Miller & Janson and their Spider-Man vs DD plate from Marvel Team-Up Portfolio One. Next come original art pages and covers, a House ad for Elektra’s debut plus the original art, cover artwork  and finished product for Marvel Super-Heroes Megazine #2 plus covers of #3, 4 & 6 (by Michael Golden, Lee Weeks, Scott McDaniel and others), and Miller’s cover and frontispiece for Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller volume 1 as well as his introduction from that collection.

As the decade closed, these gritty tales set the scene for truly mature forthcoming dramas, promising the true potential of Daredevil was finally in reach. Their narrative energy and exuberant excitement are dashing delights no action fan will care to miss.

…And the next volume heads full on into darker shadows, the grimmest of territory and the breaking of many more boundaries…
© 2021 MARVEL.

Batman: Black and White volume 1


By Ted McKeever, Bruce Timm, Klaus Janson, Archie Goodwin & Gary Gianni, Katsuhiro Otomo, Joe Kubert, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, José Muñoz, Jan Strnad & Richard Corben, Kent Williams, Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino, Neil Gaiman & Simon Bisley, Andrew Helfer & Liberatore, Bill Sienkiewicz, Matt Wagner, Dennis O’Neil & Teddy Kristiansen, Brian Bolland, Kevin Nowlan, Brian Stelfreeze, Michael Allred, Moebius, Michael Kaluta, Tony Salmons, P. Craig Russell, Marc Silvestri, Alex Ross, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1589-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

Batman is a creature of the night. Batman is the world’s greatest detective, escapologist and master of disguise. Batman fights criminals, mad men and bad women, aliens and monsters. Batman is all this and more. In a world of fabulous eerily distorted hues and constantly shifting blinding colour (mostly red) he sees in black and white… and now so will you…

As recapped in a sagacious Introduction, in the early 1990s Batman: Black and White was originally envisioned as an experimental limited series, with editors Marl Chiarello & Scott Peterson inviting the world’s greatest comics creators – whether new to the character or long-time veterans – to tell “their” story of the Gotham Gangbuster. They would be free of all continuity constraints but operating under the sole proviso that the result should be designed to work in stark monochrome.

Results were astounding, challenging and inevitably, multi-award winning. If you are any sort of Bat-fan or aficionado of the art form there will be something in this wonderful tome to blow your socks off. Just don’t read it in front of your Nan – she spent hours knitting them.

Here is a spectacular showing from some of our world’s greatest talents, producing short complete tales without benefit or hindrance of colour. Moreover, the experiment was such a success that despite some company resistance to its very concept, the miniseries won much acclaim and many awards. Its success led to a regular black-&-white “out-continuity” slot in monthly anthology comic Gotham Knights. Those stories were collected in two subsequent B:BAW volumes. The experiment even evolved a subgenre of monochrome books starring many four-colour superstars from different companies: most of them exploiting the cultural label of “Noir”…

The groundbreaking enigmatic variations open with Ted McKeever’s ‘Perpetual Mourning’ wherein a quiet visit to the morgue opens a small dark window into the hero’s mind after which a panoply of assorted treats unfold, ranging from Archie Goodwin & Gary Gianni’s period piece ‘Heroes’ to poignant Good Evening, Midnight’ written & illustrated by Klaus Janson with the hero scrutinised by the one who knows him best.

Steeped in the animated show’s trappings, Bruce Timm’s tragic ‘Two of a Kind’ interrogates Harvey Dent and Two Face’s life whereas just plain wild and weird declamatory epics The Third Mask’ (by Katsuhiro Otomo) and Joe Kubert’s deeply symbolic ‘The Hunt’ are highly personal takes from major league creators showing why The Batman continues to grip public consciousness in almost any permutation or milieu.

As much thematic metaphor as artistic exercise, stories were not restricted to current DC continuity, but encouraged exploration of the character via impressionistic, personal forays such as ‘Petty Crimes’ by Howard Chaykin, with Archie Goodwin returning to script eerily memorable Jazz thriller ‘The Devil’s Trumpet’ for the astounding stylist José Muñoz.

Walter Simonson crafts future science myth ‘Legend’ whilst Jan Strnad & Richard Corben collaborate on bleak urban fable ‘Monster Maker’, even as Kent Williams revisits the night the Waynes died in ‘Dead Boys Eyes’, whilst Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino’s ‘The Devil’s Children’ examines GCPD’s unique attitude to the Gotham Guardian…

Neil Gaiman & Simon Bisley’s ‘A Black and White World’ is arguably the weakest entry in the book, relying on “Fourth Wall cleverness” rather than actual plot, whereas Andrew Helfer & Liberatore’s insightful kidnap tale ‘In Dreams’ delivers a powerful punch, as does Matt Wagner’s fabulously stylish action romp ‘Heist’, before ‘Bent Twig’ delivers intense whimsy and deep, challenging philosophical questioning from Bill Sienkiewicz – and all shrouded under an ostensibly seasonal theme.

The same setting plays ‘A Slaying Song Tonight’ by Dennis O’Neil & Teddy Kristiansen, whilst Brian Bolland produces the beautifully disturbing ‘An Innocent Guy’. Strnad encores by scripting ‘Monsters in the Closet’ for forensically brilliant Kevin Nowlan, as does O’Neil for Brian Stelfreeze in chilling y introspective ‘Leavetaking’.

Chiarello’s Introduction explains how the project began and acknowledges its conceptual debt to Archie Goodwin’s tenure as writer/editor of Eerie and Warren Publication’s other groundbreaking monochrome magazines, but the collection is also superbly supplemented with background and developmental material, pin-ups and sketch pages from the likes of Michael Allred, Moebius, Michael Kaluta, Tony Salmons, P. Craig Russell, Marc Silvestri, Alex Ross and Neal Adams.

These are uncompromising visions of The Dark Knight that reshaped the medium, returning noir style and themes by offering mayhem in moody monochrome. They are Batman at his most primal and should be on every fan’s radar…
© 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest volume 3


By Edmond Hamilton, Cary Bates, Jim Shooter, Leo Dorfman, Bill Finger, Curt Swan, George Klein, Sheldon Moldoff, Al Plastino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-585-2 (TPB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest” team. Friends as well as colleagues, their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This third magnificent monochrome compendium gathers their cataclysmic collaborations from the glory days of the mid-1960’s: specifically World’s Finest Comics #146-173 – with the exception of reprint 80-Page Giant issues #161 &170 – and cumulatively covering cover-dates December 1964 through February 1968). This was a time when the entire Free World went superhero gaga in response to Batman’s live action and Superman’s animated TV shows…

A new era had begun in World’s Finest Comics #141 when author Edmond Hamilton and artists Curt Swan & George Klein (who illustrate the bulk of tales in this collection) ushered in a more dramatic, realistic and far less whimsical tone. That titanic creative trio continue their rationalist run in this volume starting with #146’s Batman, Son of Krypton!’ wherein uncovered evidence from the Bottle City of Kandor and bizarre recovered memories seemed to indicate the Caped Crusader is in fact an amnesiac, de-powered, Kryptonian. Moreover, as our heroes dig deeper, Superman thinks he’s found the Earthman responsible for Krypton’s destruction and becomes crazed with a hunger for vengeance…

WFC #147’s saw the sidekicks step up in a stirring blend of science fiction thriller and crime caper, all masquerading as an engaging drama of youth-in-revolt when ‘The New Terrific Team!’ (February 1965 Hamilton, Swan & Klein) saw Jimmy Olsen and Robin quit their underappreciated assistant roles to strike out on their disgruntled own. Naturally there was a perfectly rational, if incredible, reason. In #148 ‘Superman and Batman – Outlaws!’ (with Sheldon Moldoff temporarily replacing Klein) saw the Cape & Cowl Crimebusters sent to another dimension where arch-villains Lex Luthor and Clayface were heroes and the Dark Knight and Action Ace ruthless hunted criminals, after which World’s Finest Comics #149 (May 1965 and also inked by Moldoff) dealt out ‘The Game of Secret Identities!’ with Superman locked into an increasingly obsessive battle of wits with Batman that seemed likely to break up the partnership and even lead to violent disaster…

‘The Super-Gamble with Doom!’ (#150) introduced manipulative aliens Rokk and Sorban, whose addictive and staggeringly spectacular wagering almost gets Batman killed and Earth destroyed, before ‘The Infinite Evolutions of Batman and Superman!’ in #151 introduces junior writer Cary Bates, pairing with Hamilton to produce a beguiling sci fi thriller as the Gotham Guardian transforms into a callous future-man and the Metropolis Marvel is reduced to a brutish Neanderthal…

Hamilton solo-scripted #152’s ‘The Colossal Kids!’ wherein a brace of incomprehensibly super-powered brats outmatch, outdo but never outwit Batman or Superman (and of course there are old antagonists behind the challenging campaign of humiliation) after which Bates rejoins his writing mentor for a taut and dramatic “Imaginary Story” in #153.

When Editor Mort Weisinger was expanding Superman continuity and building the legend, he knew that each new tale was an event adding to a nigh-sacred canon and that what was written and drawn mattered to readers. But as an ideas man he wasn’t going to let that aggregated “consensus history” stifle a good idea, nor would he allow his eager yet sophisticated audience to endure clichéd deus ex machina cop-outs to mar the sheer enjoyment of a captivating concept. The mantra known to every baby-boomer fan was “Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not a Robot!” boldly emblazoned covers depicting scenes that couldn’t possibly be true… even if it was only a comic book.

Imaginary Stories were conceived as a way of exploring non-continuity plots and scenarios devised at a time when editors believed entertainment trumped consistency and knew that every comic read was somebody’s first – or potentially last. Illustrated by as ever by Swan & Klein, ‘The Clash of Cape and Cowl!’ posited a situation where brilliant young Bruce Wayne grew up believing Superboy had murdered his father, thereafter dedicating his life to crushing all criminals as a Bat Man awaiting the day when he could expose Superman as a killer and sanctimonious fraud…

WFC #154’s ‘The Sons of Superman and Batman’ (by Hamilton) opened doors to a far less tragic Imaginary world: one where the crime fighters finally found time to marry Lois Lane and Kathy Kane and have kids. Unfortunately, their lads proved to be both a trial and initially a huge disappointment…

‘Exit Batman – Enter Nightman!’ is a canny psychological thriller with the World’s Finest Team on the cusp of their 1,000th successful shared case when a new costumed crusader threatens to break up the partnership and replace burned out Batman, after which ‘The Federation of Bizarro Idiots!’ in #156 sees well-meaning but imbecilic imperfect duplicates of Superman and Batman set up shop on Earth. They end up as pawns of the duplicitous Joker, and it does not end well…

In #157’s ‘The Abominable Brats’ – drawn with inevitable brilliance by Swan and inked by both Klein & Moldoff – featured an Imaginary Story sequel as the wayward sons of heroes return to cause even more mischief, although once more there are other insidious influences in play…

‘The Invulnerable Super-Enemy!’ (#158 by Hamilton, Swan & Klein), has the Olsen-Robin Team stumble upon three Bottled Cities and inadvertently draw their mentors into a terrifying odyssey of evil. At first it appears to be the work of Brainiac but is in fact far from it, and is followed by ‘The Cape and Cowl Crooks!’ (WFC #159), dealing with foes possessing far mightier powers than our heroes – apparently a major concern for readers of those times.

To this day whenever fans gather a cry soon echoes out, “Who’s the strongest/fastest/better dressed…?” but this canny conundrum took the theme to superbly suspenseful heights as Anti-Superman and Anti-Batman continually outwit and outmanoeuvre the heroes, seemingly possessed of impossible knowledge of their antagonists…

Leo Dorfman debuted as scripter in#160 as the heroes struggled to discredit ‘The Fatal Forecasts of Dr. Zodiac’, a scurrilous Swami who appears to control fate itself. World’s Finest Comics #161 was an 80-Page Giant reprinting past tales and not included in this collection, so we jump to #162’s ‘Pawns of the Jousting Master!’: by another fresh scripting face. Teenager Jim Shooter produced an engaging time travel romp wherein Superman and Batman are defeated in combat and compelled to travel back to Camelot in a beguiling tale of King Arthur, super-powered knights and invading aliens…

‘The Duel of the Super-Duo!’ (#163, by Shooter, Swan & Klein) pits Superman against a brainwashed Batman on a world where his mighty powers are negated and other heroes of the galaxy are imprisoned by a master manipulator, after which Dorfman delivers an engaging thriller wherein a girl who is more powerful than Superman and smarter than Batman proves to be ‘Brainiac’s Super Brain-Child!’ Bill Finger & Al Plastino step in to craft WFC #165’s ‘The Crown of Crime’ (March 1967), depicting the last days of dying mega-gangster King Wolff. His plan to go out with a bang sets the underworld ablaze and almost stymies both heroes, after which Shooter, Swan & Klein depict ‘The Danger of the Deadly Duo!’ in which the 20th generation of Batman and Superman unite to battle The Joker of 2967 and his uncanny ally Muto: a superb flight of fantasy that was sequel to a brief series of stories starring Superman’s heroic descendent in a fantastic far future world.

WFC #167 saw Bates solo script ‘The New Superman and Batman Team!’: an Imaginary Story wherein boy scientist Lex Luthor gives himself super-powers and a Kal-El who had landed on Earth without Kryptonian abilities trains himself to become an avenging Batman after his foster-father Jonathan Kent was murdered. The Smallville Stalwarts briefly united in a crime-fighting partnership, but destiny has other plans for the fore-doomed friends…

In World’s Finest #142 a lowly, embittered janitor suddenly gained all the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes and attacked Caped Crusader and Action Ace out of frustration and jealousy. Revived by Bates for #168’s ‘The Return of the Composite Superman!’ he is actually the pawn of a truly evil villain but gloriously triumphs over his own venal nature, after which #169 hosts ‘The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot’: a whimsical fantasy feast from Bates, Swan & Klein wherein the uppity lasses apparently toil tirelessly to supplant and replace Batman and Superman before it’s revealed that the Dynamic Damsels are mere pawns of an extremely duplicitous team of female felons and a brace of old WF antagonists are actually behind the Byzantine scheme…

Issue #170 is another unincluded mammoth reprint edition, after which #171 reveals ‘The Executioner’s List!’ (script by Dorfman): an intriguing, tense murder-mystery with a mysterious sniper seemingly targeting friends of Superman and Batman, before stirring, hard-hitting Imaginary Story ‘Superman and Batman… Brothers!’ (#172, December 1967) posits a grim scenario wherein orphaned Bruce Wayne is adopted by the Kents, but cannot escape a destiny of tragedy and darkness. Written by Shooter and brilliantly interpreted by Swan & Klein, this moody thriller in many ways signalled the end of angst-free days and beginning of a darker, edgier and more cohesive DC universe for a less casual readership, thereby surrendering the mythology to an increasingly devout fan-based audience.

This stunning compendium closes with World’s Finest Comics #173 and ‘The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes!’ (Shooter, Swan & Klein) as a criminal scientist devises a way to literally transform the Cape & Cowl Crusaders into their own worst enemies…

These are gloriously clever yet uncomplicated tales whose timeless style has returned to inform if not dictate the form for much of DC’s modern television animation. The stories here are a veritable feast of witty, gritty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have: unmissable adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1964-1968, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Marble Cake


By Scott Jason Smith (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-47-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

I read a lot of graphic novels. Some are awful, many are mediocre and the rest – great, good, noteworthy or just different from the mass, commercially-driven output of a global art form and industry – I share with you.

Some publishers have a proud policy of championing that last category (Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, NBM, Oni Press, Fantagraphics and others) – even though there’s seldom any real money in it. My favourite of these bold pioneers at the moment is British-based Avery Hill Publishing. I truly have not yet seen a duff or homogenised release from them.

Scott Jason Smith hails from the seamy south side of London (as all the best folk do) and quickly forged a solid reputation with self-published comics and stories like ‘Blossom the tall old lady’ and in collaborations with mainstream-adjacent contemporaries in tomes such as 69 Love Songs Illustrated.

Scott is skilled in depicting people and mundane life and possesses a sharp sense of humour, honed by spending a lot of time listening to how ordinary folk talk. Knowing what we all have in common allows for an extremely deft use of dialogue to build character and construct scenarios at once drearily familiar and subtly tweaked and twisted. This all adds a potent veracity to this particular brand of everyday adventuring which here seamlessly slips from a soap-operatic drama of the mundane or “Commedia dell’plebia” to a suitably underplayed terror-scape mirroring the Theatre of the Absurd as envisioned by Samuel Beckett or Daniel Clowes…

Marble Cake was a debut novel-length tale, relating intersecting moments of a bunch of strangers and casual near-acquaintances who all interact with till girl Tracy at the local Smartmart store. Her job leaves plenty of time to fantasize about what “her” customers do when she’s not around, but she really has no idea of what’s really going on. In fact, no one does…

Life and death, joblessness and social standing, malice and sexual desire, intolerance and ennui, but especially hopelessness and general distrust tinge every real or imagined home-life that Tracy ponders – even her own. However, when genuine threat and mystery – such as a string of baffling disappearances – increasingly grip the community, no one has any idea how to respond…

This compelling, tale challenges notion of self-worth and universal rationality in a wryly acerbic manner that will intrigue and charm lovers of slice-of-life yarns as well as surreal storytelling, and who don’t mind doing a bit of the cerebral heavy lifting themselves.
© Scott Jason Smith 2019. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Batman volume 2


By John Broome, Gardner F. Fox, Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Giella, Sid Greene, Chic Stone, Murphy Anderson and with covers from Gil Kane and Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN 978-1-84576-661-0 (TPB)

This volume from the wonderfully cheap & cheerful, crushingly much-missed Showcase Presents… line serves up in sharp, crisp monochrome 36 more Bat-stories from September 1965 to December 1966 as originally seen in Batman #175-188 and Detective Comics #343-358. Other than covers it excludes Batman #176, 182, 185 & 187, which were all-reprint 80-Page Giants.

These tales were produced in the months leading up to the launch of and throughout year one of the blockbuster Batman television show (premiering January 12th 1966 and running 3 seasons of 120 episodes in total). The show aired twice weekly in its first two seasons, resulting in vast amounts of Bat-awareness, no end of spin-offs and merchandise, a movie and the overkill phenomenon of “Batmania”. No matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, to a huge portion of this planet’s population Batman will always be that “Zap! Biff! Pow!” buffoonish costumed Boy Scout…

Regrettably this means the comic stories published during that period have been similarly excoriated and maligned by many ever since. It is true some tales were crafted with overtones of the “camp” comedy fad – presumably to accommodate newer readers seduced by the arch silliness and coy irony of the show – but no editor of Julius Schwartz’s calibre would ever deviate far from characterisation that had sustained Batman for nearly three decades, or the then-recent relaunch which had revitalised the character sufficiently for television to take an interest at all.

Nor would such brilliant writers as John Broome, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox or Bob Kanigher ever produce work which didn’t resonate on all the Batman’s complex levels just for a quick laugh and cheap thrill. The artists tasked with sustaining the visual intensity included such greats as Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff, Chic Stone, Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene, with covers from Gil Kane and Joe Kubert supplementing the stunning and trend-setting, fine-line Infantino masterpieces.

Most stories in this compendium reflect those gentler times and an editorial policy to focus on Batman’s reputation as “The World’s Greatest Detective”, so colourfully costumed, psychotic veteran supervillains are in a minority, but there are first appearances for a number of exotic foes who would become regular menaces for the Dynamic Duo in later years.

The mayhem and mystery begin with book-length epic ‘The Secret War of the Phantom General!’ from Detective Comics #343 (September 1965). Written by John Broome and limned by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, it incorporates back up star Elongated Man: a costumed sleuth blending the charm of Nick “The Thin Man” Charles with the outré hero antics of Plastic Man

This tense thriller pits hard-pressed heroes against a hidden army of gangsters and Nazi war criminals, before #344 introduces intellectual bandit Johnny Witts, ‘The Crime-Boss Who Was Always One Step Ahead of Batman!’ in a sharp duel of mentalities from Gardner Fox, Sheldon Moldoff & Giella. The same creative team produced epic shocker ‘The Decline and Fall of Batman’ in the 175th issue of his own titular magazine, wherein fringe scientist Eddie Repp almost ends the Caped Crusaders’ careers by assaulting them with electronic ghosts, after which Detective #345 debuts a terrifying and tragic new villain in ‘The Blockbuster Invasion of Gotham City!’ (Fox, Infantino & Giella), as a monstrous giant with the mind of a child and raw, physical power of a tank is constantly driven to madness at sight of Batman and only placated by the sight of Bruce Wayne

Batman #177 opens with Bill Finger, Moldoff & Giella’s puzzler, ‘Two Batmen Too Many’ complete with a brace of superhero guest-stars, after which ‘The Art Gallery of Rogues!’ (Broome, Moldoff & Sid Greene) combines good-natured matchmaking with murderous burglary before ‘Batman’s Inescapable Doom-Trap!’ (Detective #346, Broome, Moldoff & Giella) highlights the Gotham Gangbuster’s escapology skills when a magician-turned-thief alpha-tests his latest stunt on the unwilling, unwitting hero.

Fox, Infantino & Giella reveal ‘The Strange Death of Batman!’ in Detective # 347, launching habitual B-list villain The Bouncer in a bizarre experimental yarn which must be seen to be believed, whereas it’s all-action business as usual in Batman #178 when the ‘Raid of the Rocketeers!’ (Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) set the Caped Champions on the trail of jet-packed super-thugs after which Broome, Moldoff & Greene start referencing the TV series’ tone in light-hearted caper ‘The Loan Shark’s Hidden Horde!’

Whilst ‘The Birdmaster of Bedlam!’ (Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) who hatched his first sinister scheme in Detective #349 proves ultimately incapable of containing the heroes, Batman #179 provides more of a challenge with ‘Clay Pigeon for a Killer!’ Kanigher, Moldoff & Greene (erroneously credited as Giella here) see Batman using television’s “Most Wanted” show to trap a murderer beyond reach of the law whilst ‘The Riddle-less Robberies of The Riddler!’ (Broome Moldoff & Giella), fully reinvents the Prince of Puzzlers as the felon discovers he cannot escape or defy an obsessive psychological compulsion preventing him from committing crimes unless he sends clues to Batman first! Sadly, even when Eddie Nigma cheats, the Masked Manhunter keeps solving the clues…

The microcephalic man-brute who hates Batman returns as ‘The Blockbuster Breaks Loose!’ in a blistering, action-fuelled thriller by Fox, Infantino & Giella (Detective #349) which also hints at the return of a long-forgotten foe, whilst ‘The Monarch of Menace!’ (#350 by Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) introduces the greatest criminal in the world, who starts well but inevitably falls to the Gotham Guardian’s indomitable persistence.

Illustrated by Moldoff & Giella, Batman #180 debuts the uncanny Death-Man in ‘Death Knocks Three Times!’ – Kanigher’s best tale of this era and an early indication of the Caped Crusader’s eerie potential, after which Detective #351 premieres game-show host turned felonious impresario Arthur Brown in ‘The Cluemaster’s Topsy-Turvy Crimes!’ courtesy of Fox, Infantino & Greene.

‘Beware of… Poison Ivy!’ in Batman #181 introduces the deadly damsel to the Caped Crusader’s Rogues Gallery, but in this tale she’s only a criminal boss using sex as her weapon to split up the Dynamic Duo and defeat rival villainesses in a sly tale from Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella. Following an iconic pin-up courtesy of Infantino & Murphy Anderson comes a superb Mystery Analysts of Gotham City shocker. Fox, Moldoff & Greene detail ‘The Perfect Crime… Slightly Imperfect!’, before Detective #352 sees Broome, Moldoff & Giella explore ‘Batman’s Crime Hunt A-Go-Go!’ wherein Batman hits an incredible hot-streak, repeatedly catching criminals in the act with incredible hunches. Of course, it’s no such thing and sinister stage mentalist Mr. Esper is manipulating the crime campaign for his own sinister ends…

After another stunning Infantino & Anderson Bat pin-up, narrative action resumes with ‘The Weather Wizard’s Triple-Treasure Thefts!’ (Fox, Infantino & Giella) in #353, pitting the Dynamic Duo in spectacular opposition to The Flash’s archenemy: one of the first times a DC villain moved out of his usual stamping grounds. Batman #183 opens with ‘A Touch of Poison Ivy!’ (Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) as the seductive siren tries again to turn the Caped Crusader’s head before excellent “fair-play” mystery ‘Batman’s Baffling Turnabout!’ sees Gardner Fox challenge readers to deduce what turns the hero against a baffled Boy Wonder…

‘No Exit for Batman’ (Detective #354, by Broome Moldoff & Giella) introduces bloodthirsty oriental fiend Dr. Tzin-Tzin and gives me another excellent opportunity to remind you just how far we’ve all come in confronting all those pernicious stereotypes that underpinned so much popular fiction…

The tale itself is a bruising all-action battle with the hero targeted by a Chinese ganglord seeking to break him down by fighting an army of foes, followed by Fox’s ‘Mystery of the Missing Manhunters!’ which generated one of the most memorable covers of the decade for Batman #184 and a back-up Robin solo tale: ‘The Boy Wonder’s Boo-Boo Patrol!’ (Fox, Chic Stone & Greene) showing the kid’s potential in a smart tale of thespian skulduggery and clever conundrum solving.

Detective #355 again highlights our hero’s physical prowess and deductive capabilities in blistering yarn ‘Hate of the Hooded Hangman!’ (Broome, Infantino & Giella), after which an extended duel with a mutated mastermind culminates in ‘The Inside story of the Outsider!’ and the miraculous resurrection of faithful retainer Alfred in a landmark, game-changing, classic confrontation by Fox, Moldoff & Giella from Detective Comics #356.

Batman #186 sees the Clown Prince of Crime in possibly his most innocuous exploit ‘The Joker’s Original Robberies’ as Broome, Moldoff & Giella sought to out-Camp the TV show, whereas ‘Commissioner Gordon’s Death-Threat!’ (written by Fox) put the artists’ talents to far better use in a terse and compelling kidnap thriller. Broome redeems himself in Detective #357 with sharp secret identity saving puzzler Bruce Wayne Unmasks Batman!’ (limned by Infantino & Giella).

Batman #188 featured ‘The Eraser Who Tried to Rub Out Batman!’ (Broome, Moldoff & Giella) and Fox, Moldoff & Greene’s decidedly sharper and less silly murder-mystery ‘The Ten Best-Dressed Corpses in Gotham City!’ after which this collection concludes on a note of psychological intrigue as Broome, Moldoff & Giella use Detective #358 to outline ‘The Circle of Terror’, wherein the Masked Manhunter is progressively driven to the edge of madness by Op Art maestro The Spellbinder.

With covers by Infantino, Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson and Joe Kubert, pin-up extras, frequent reprint compendiums and lots of cross-pollination with the TV series, DC were pulling out all the stops to capitalise on the screen exposure and ensure the comic buying public got their 12¢ worth, but the most effective tool in the arsenal was always the sheer scope and variety of the stories. The bulk of the yarns reprinted here are thefts, capers and sinister schemes by heist men, murderers, would-be world-conquerors or mad scientists and I must say it’s a joy to see such once-common staples of comic books in play again. Call me radical or reactionary but I say you can have too much psycho-killing, and just how many alien races really and truly can be bothered with our poxy planet – or our women?

…And yes, there are one or two utterly daft escapades included here, but overall this book is a magical window onto a simpler time but not burdened by simpler fare. These Batman adventures are tense, thrilling, engrossing, engaging and even amusing and I’d have no qualms giving them to my niece or my granny. It’s such a shame DC seems to disagree but at least by seeking this out you can Tune In and become a proper Bat-Fan.
© 1965, 1966, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Batman Adventures volume 2


By Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5463-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

As conceived and delivered by Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm & latterly Paul Dini, Batman: The Animated Series began airing in the US on September 5th 1992, running to September 15th 1995 before being rebooted for a second bite at the cherry. The shows – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and happily fed back into a print iteration, introducing characters like Harley Quinn to the comics canon and leading to some of the absolute best comic book tales in the hero’s decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger, his team, allies and enemies into gleefully accessible, thematically memorable forms that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding dark shades of exuberance and panache only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

The comic book iteration was prime material for collection in an emergent trade paperback market, but only the first year was released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: the Lost Years.

This second compendium gathers issues #11-20 of The Batman Adventures (originally published from August 1993 to May 1994) in a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy from Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett.

Puckett is a writer who truly grasps the visual nature of the medium and his stories are always fast-paced, action-packed and stripped down to the barest of essential dialogue. That gift has never been better exploited than by Parobeck who was at that time a rising star, especially when graced by Burchett’s slick, clean inking.

Although his professional comics career was tragically short (1989-1996 when he died, aged 31, from complications of Type 1 Diabetes) Mike Parobeck’s gracefully fluid, exuberantly kinetic, fun-fuelled animation-inspired drawing style revolutionised superhero depiction and sparked a renaissance in kid-friendly comics – and merchandise – at DC and everywhere else.

Like the show, each story is treated as a 3-act play, and kicking off events here is moodily magnificent thriller ‘The Beast Within!’ as obsessed scientist Kirk Langstrom agonises. He believes he is somehow uncontrollably transforming into the monstrous Man-Bat whenever ‘The Sleeper Awakens!’ The truth is far more sinister, but incarcerated in ‘G.C.P.D.H.Q!’ neither the troubled chemist nor his beloved wife Francine can discern ‘The Awful Truth!’ Happily, ever-watchful Batman plays by his own rules…

Following in with a stunning shift of focus, young Barbara Gordon makes a superhero costume for a party on ‘Batgirl: Day One!’ and subsequently stumbles into a larcenous ‘Ladies Night’ when the High Society bash is crashed by rejected Joker groupie Harley Quinn and plant-based plunderer Poison Ivy. With no professional help on hand, Babs must act as ‘If the Suit Fits!’ and tackle the bad girls herself… and then Catwoman shows up for frantic ferocious finale ‘Out of the Frying Pan!’

The troubled relationship of Batman and Talia, Daughter of The Demon was tackled with surprising sophistication in ‘Last Tango in Paris’ with the sometime-lovers teaming up to recover a statue stolen from her diabolical eco-terrorist dad Ra’s Al Ghul.

‘Act 1: Old Flame’ sees them stumble into a trap set by one of The Demon’s rivals, but turn the tables in ‘Act 2: Paris is Burning’ before each of the trysting couple’s true motivations are exposed in heartbreaking ‘Act 3: Where there’s Smoke’

Despite being a series to be read one glorious tale at a time, the creators had laid groundwork for an epic sequence to come, but whilst Bruce is occupied in Europe, the spotlight shifts to Dick Grayson as the Teen Wonder worries about how to break to his mentor news of a game-changing decision, even as ‘Public Enemy’ sees the latest incomprehensible rampage of  deranged bandit by The Ventriloquist

‘Act 1: Greakout!’ finds the cunningly carved crook and his silently screaming stooge escaping clink to orchestrate a massive heist in ‘Act 2: The Grinks Jog’, only to ultimately have the limelight stolen by Robin in ‘Act 3: The Gig Glock!’

Police Commissioner Jim Gordon teams with Batman in ‘Badge of Honor’, united to save a undercover cop held hostage by Boss Rupert Thorne in ‘Act 1: Officer Down!’ before ‘Act 2: Cop Killer!’ tracks the seemingly unstoppable duo hunting down the fallen hero only to face their greatest obstacle in ‘Act 3: Code Dead!’ That’s when slick operator Thorne finally himself gets his hands dirty…

In ‘The Killing Book’ the Harlequin of Hate takes offence at his “unflattering” portrayal in comics with ‘Act 1: Seduction of the Innocent!’ seeing The Joker kidnap the publisher’s latest overnight sensation in order to show in ‘Act 2: How to Draw Comics the Joker Way!’ Naturally ‘Act 3: Comics and Sequential Death!’ only prove Batman is not a guy to tolerate funnybooks or artistic upstarts.

The seeds planted in Paris flourish and bloom in ‘The Tangled Web’ as The Demon’s latest act of genocide begins with ‘Act 1: Into the Shadows!’ However ‘Act 2: New World Order’ proves yet again Ra’s has critically underestimated his enemy, as a different masked stranger saves Earth from catastrophe in ‘Act 3: What Doth it Profit a Man?’

Following that epic victory Robin meets the baffling and mysterious Batgirl for the first time on ‘Decision Day’ when conflicted Barbara Gordon again succumbs to the addictive lure of costumed crimefighting. Thwarting a bomb plot in ‘Act 1: Eyewitness!’ the feisty but untutored firebrand opts to catch the culprit herself in ‘Act 2: Smoking Gun’, even if she does grudgingly accept a little assistance from the Teen Wonder in ‘Act 3: No Justice, No Peace!’

Gotham’s Master of Terror turns up inside Batman’s head sparking ‘Troubled Dreams’ as the Dark Knight becomes just one of many sufferers of ‘Act 1: Nightmare over Gotham!’ Just for once, however, there’s another instigator of panic in the mix, enquiring in ‘Act 2: Who Scares The Scarecrow?’ until the Caped Crusader catches the real dream-invader in ‘Act 3: Beneath the Mask’…

The fabulous foray into classic four-colour fun concludes with another spectacular yet hilarious outing for a Terrible Trio of criminals who bear a remarkable resemblance to DC editors Dennis O’Neil, Mike Carlin and Archie Goodwin. ‘Smells Like Black Sunday’ opens with ‘Act 1: And a Perfesser Shall Lead Them!’ as the Triumvirate of Terror bust out of the big house, hotly pursued by the Gotham Gangbuster in ‘Act 2: Flying Blind with Mastermind’.

Sadly their scheme to become a 3-man nuclear power falters as ‘Act 3: Legend of the Dark Nice’ finds the evil geniuses underestimating the sheer cuteness of guard dogs and their cataclysmic comrade’s innately gentle disposition…

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are impeccable Bat-magic and this is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1993, 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Last Days of American Crime



By Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini (Image Comics /Radical Books)
ISBN: 978-0-935417-06-4 (HB Radical) 978-1-53430437-6 (PB/Digital Image)

Elections on the horizon everywhere this year, and in advance of what I can pretty safely assume is more of the same and worse everywhere, followed by whole bunches of crushing dystopias, here’s a peek back at what we thought the end of civilisation would look like merely a decade ago…

If you’re in any more need of a sobering dose of deeply disturbing hyper-reality, I can highly recommend this brilliant, extremely adult, cross-genre thriller which posits a fascinating premise, starts a countdown clock ticking down and delivers a killer kick to finish the rollercoaster ride.

The Good Old USA is a mess and the government need to take drastic action if they want to keep control. Terrorism and crime are rampant but luckily the nerds and techies have come up with a radical solution: the American Peace Initiative – a broadcast frequency that utterly suppresses the ability to knowingly break a law.

Any law.

Taking the radical decision to make all lawbreaking impossible (which is the only logical flaw I can find: what politician is ever going to make bribery obsolete?), and fearing social meltdown in the run-up to going live, the Powers-That-Be also set up a distraction in the form of a complete switchover from a cash economy to universal electronic transfers – infallible, incorruptible, un-stealable digital currency.

From “D-Day” onwards, citizens will top up pay-cards from charging machines which are tamper-proof and impossible to hack. From that day every transaction in North America will be recorded and traceable thereby making every illegal purchase – drugs, guns, illicit sex – utterly impossible…

In the weeks before the big switchover there’s a huge exodus for the borders of Canada and Mexico and a total breakdown of law and order in the country’s most degenerate areas, but generally everyone seems resigned to the schemes – even after the anti-lawbreaking API broadcast plan is leaked…

With the world about to change forever, low-rent career crook Graham Bricke spots a chance for the biggest score of his life. He’s working as a security guard in one of the banks that will house the new currency technology and sees an opportunity to steal one of the charging machines before the system is locked down forever. Unfortunately, due to the API broadcast he has to pull off the caper before it becomes impossible to even contemplate theft…

In a hurry and needing specialised help, Bricke and his silent partner are forced to hire a crew of strangers, but as days dwindle he realises safecracker Kevin Cash and hacker Shelby Dupree are both trouble: a murderous psychotic and crazed libidinous wild-child with daddy issues. If only he can work out which is which…

There are other distractions. Graham is being hunted by a manic gangbanger and his posse and there’s a good chance at least one of his team is planning a double-cross…

A fascinating idea carried out with dizzying style and astounding panache: smart, sexy, unbelievably violent and utterly compelling: combining the brooding energy of The Wire, unremitting tension of 24’s first season and timeless off-centre charm of Reservoir Dogs. It had blockbuster movie written all over it – which is no surprise as Remender’s previous efforts include mainstream comic books like All-New Atom, X-Men and Punisher, computer games Dead Space and Bulletstorm and animated feature Titan A.E. and he’s since produced a welter of gritty stuff such as The Scumbag, Devolution and Anthrax: Among the Living.

Sadly, when it was filmed (released in 2020), none of that came through, so stick to the book not the box here…

Short. Sharp. Shocking, smartly concocted by Rick Remender and stunningly executed in dazzling colour by Greg Tocchini, the paperback includes an extensive sketch and design section, an interview with the author and a lavish cover gallery including variants by Alex Malleev, Jerome Opeña & Matt Wilson and Joel dos Reis Viegas.

What else do I need to say?
© 2010 Rick Remender and Radical Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.

Batman: The Strange Deaths of Batman


By Gardner F. Fox, Cary Bates, Cary Bates, Bob Haney, David V. Reed, Gerry Conway, John Stanisci, Chuck Dixon, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, Curt Swan & Jack Abel, Jim Aparo, John Calnan & Tex Blaisdell, Rich Buckler & Frank McLaughlin, Sal Buscema, Greg Land, Drew Geraci & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2174-4 (TPB)

Compiled on the coat-tails of DC’s Batman R.I.P. publishing event (which ran May to November 2008, and with repercussions inspiring recent events in the ongoing mythology), this delightfully eccentric collection celebrates the recurrent demise of the Gotham Guardian by digging up a few oddments and some genuine valuable artifacts to amuse, enthral and amaze.

The wonderment begins with the quirkily eponymous ‘The Strange Death of Batman!’: a highly experimental mystery originating in Detective Comics #347 (January 1966) literally moments before the Dynamic Duo became household names all over the globe thanks to an incredibly popular TV show. Crafted by Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, it features a major contender for the title of Batman’s daftest super-foe – The Bouncer – but still delivers action, drama and an intriguing conundrum to challenge the reader…

It’s followed by ‘Robin’s Revenge’ (World’s Finest Comics #184. May 1969) wherein Cary Bates and artists Curt Swan & Jack Abel recount the Imaginary Story (see DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories for a definition if the term is somehow unknown to you) of Batman’s murder and the dark path that loss takes the Boy Wonder down. Hapless Superman acts as stand-in guardian but is helpless to forestall inevitable further tragedy…

‘The Corpse that Wouldn’t Die!’ is a superb tale guest-starring The Atom taken from team-up title The Brave and the Bold #115 (October/November 1974). Written by Bob Haney and magnificently drawn by Jim Aparo, it details how the Gotham Guardian is killed in the line of duty and how the Tiny Titan occupies his brain to reanimate his corpse and conclude the case that finished him…

Next is an extended saga from Batman #291-294 (cover dates September through December 1977) written by author David V. Reed and illustrated by John Calnan & Tex Blaisdell. Over four deviously clever issues ‘Where Were You the Night Batman Was Killed?’ sees hordes of costumed foes the Caped Crusader has crushed assemble to verify the stories of various felons claiming to have done the deed. This thematic partial inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s “Last Batman Story” kicks off with ‘The Testimony of the Catwoman’ followed by testimony from The Riddler, Lex Luthor and The Joker before satisfactorily concluding in a spectacular grand manner.

‘Buried Alive!’ by Gerry Conway, Rick Buckler & Frank McLaughlin (World’s Finest Comics #269 June/July1981) finds Superman and Robin desperately racing against time: hunting for a madman who entombed the Batman, after which ‘The Prison’ written and inked by John Stanisci, with Sal Buscema pencils, is a moody character piece featuring post-mortem reflections of Talia, Daughter of the Demon Ra’s Al Ghul as originally seen in Batman Chronicles #8, Spring 1997. This odd yet engaging tome terminates with a frilly, fluffy fantasy from Nightwing #52, (February 2001) as Catwoman imagines a morbidly mirthful ‘Modern Romance’ courtesy of Chuck Dixon, Greg Land & Drew Geraci.

Themed collections can be a rather hit-or-miss proposition, but the quality and variety of these inspired selections makes for a highly enjoyable read and the only regret I can express is that room couldn’t be found to include the various covers that fronted these tales. Include those in a new expanded edition and you’d have a book to die for…
© 1966, 1969, 1974, 1977, 1981, 1997, 2001, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Trent volume 8: Little Trent


By Rodolphe & Léo, coloured by Marie-Paule Alluard, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-398-7 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Continental audiences adore the mythologised American experience, both in Big Sky Wild Westerns and crime dramas of later eras. They enjoy a profound historical connection to the northernmost parts of the New World, generating many great graphic extravaganzas…

Born in Rio de Janeiro on December 13th 1944, “Léo” is artist/storyteller Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira Filho. Upon attaining a degree in mechanical engineering from Puerto Alegre, in 1968 he became a government employee for three years until forced to flee Brazil because of his political views. Whilst military dictators ran the homeland he lived in Chile and Argentina before illegally returning in 1974. He worked as a designer and graphic artist in Sao Paulo whilst creating his first comics art for O Bicho magazine, and in 1981 migrated to Paris to pursue a career in Bande Dessinée. He worked on Pilote and L’Echo des Savanes as well as handling advertising and graphic design jobs, until the big break when Jean-Claude Forest (Bébé Cyanure, Charlot, Barbarella) invited him to draw stories for Okapi.

This brought regular illustration work for Bayard Presse and, in 1988, Léo began his association with scripter/scenarist Rodolphe D. Jacquette – AKA Rodolphe. Prolific and celebrated, Léo’s writing partner had been a giant of comics since the 1970s: a Literature graduate who left teaching and running libraries to create poetry, criticism, novels, biographies, children’s stories and music journalism.

On meeting Jacques Lob in 1975, Jacquette expanded his portfolio: writing for many artists in magazines ranging from Pilote and Circus to à Suivre and Métal Hurlant. Amongst his most successful endeavours are Raffini (with Ferrandez) and L’Autre Monde (with Florence Magnin), but his triumphs in all genres and age ranges are far too numerous to list here.

In 1991 “Rodolph” began working with Léo on a period adventure of the “far north” starring a duty-driven loner. Taciturn, introspective, bleakly philosophical and relentlessly driven, Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Philip Trent premiered in L’Homme Mort, forging a lonely path through the 19th century Dominion. He starred in eight moving, hard-bitten, love-benighted, beautifully realised albums until 2000, with the creative collaboration sparking later fantasy classics Kenya, Centaurus and Porte de Brazenac

Cast very much in the pattern perfected by Jack London and John Buchan, Trent is a man of few words, deep thoughts and unyielding principles who gets the job done whilst stifling the emotional turmoil boiling within him: the very embodiment of “still waters running deep”.

As Petite Trent in 2000, Little Trent was the 8th and final saga to date, offering a marked change in fortune. After years of second-guessing, procrastination and prevarication, he had finally won and wed the love of his life and now basked in connubial bliss – until the opening of this tale.

Years previously, the lovelorn peacekeeper had saved Agnes St. Yves (but not her beloved brother) and was given a clear invitation from her, albeit one he never acted upon. In the interim, Agnes met and married someone else. As before, Trent was unable to save the man in her life when banditry and destruction manifested during an horrific murder spree. The ball was again in Philip’s court and once more he fumbled it through timidity, indecision and inaction. He retreated into duty, using work to evade commitment and the risk of rejection…

Now even though he has fulfilled his dream and won the woman he loves, she is still missing.

It’s not a problem he can fix. Agnes has been called away with her mother to minister to a dying relative in Europe. She might be gone as much as eight months and Trent cannot shake the conviction that it will be much longer…

Nevertheless, duty always calls and the Mountie resolutely buries himself in his next case: protection duty for a mother and child he must escort to the Pacific coast – despite every effort of the estranged husband to stop them.

Poet Rodney Taylor is the alcoholic wastrel who abused his family and utterly refuses to accept the divorce he drove his wife to seek. Due to his repeated threats the authorities have agreed to safeguard the fugitives over the wishes of the extremely violent but exceeding charming drunk. The fleeing mother and child are daughter and grandson to retired Senator Charles Priestly and if Trent can deliver them to distant Whitehorse, the bigwig’s estate household can properly protect them thereafter. The slow tedious passage by rail to Prince Rupert Sound is punctuated by constant excited questions from boisterous, hero-struck and deeply impressionable Jeremy and Trent is further distracted by a letter from Agnes which has overtaken him and waits at the Post Office in Prince Rupert, from where they will travel up river on paddle steamer Reginald

Before Trent can read the missive from Agnes, Jeremy falls into the harbour and her precious words are soaked and ruined after the sergeant fishes him out. All Trent can make of the pulp is scraps and the phrases “wonderful news” and perhaps “expecting a happy event…”

Immediately his attitude to the pesky lad softens. Although dour and dutiful in public, Trent’s dreams are troubled, as the boy’s tireless exuberance combines with the new husband’s longing for his bride, sparking distracting notions of an heir of his own…

The journey takes a dire turn when Rodney Taylor also embarks on the Reginald playing the aggrieved husband and subtly threatening his former family. Seeking to avoid conflict, the Mountie soft peddles his responses and is caught off guard when Rodney’s initial warning and punishment provoke even greater acts of bullying and terror. When the stalker hires a band of thugs events quickly escalate and the entire ship is lost.

Still refusing to see sense or back off Rodney follows them to the very gates of the Priestly estate and Trent is forced to an action that crushes Jeremy’s hero-worshipping attitude forever.

Technically successful but feeling as if he failed, Trent makes his way home to find Agnes waiting. It has been nearly a year since they were together and her news is nothing like what her husband has imagined…

Another beguilingly introspective voyage of internal discovery, where human nature is a hostile environment, Little Trent delivers suspense, sentiment, riveting action and crushing poignancy in a compelling epic to delight all fans of widescreen cinematic entertainment. This is a sensitive contemplative graphic narrative series no fan of mature drama can afford to ignore.
Original edition © Dargaud Editeur Paris 2000 by Rodolphe & Leo. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.